An Easy Thanksgiving

November 15, 2011

by Ann Waterman

Last year, I finally hosted my first Thanksgiving dinner. Up until then, I had always spent it at other people’s homes and enjoyed the fruits of their labor; but after moving and finally having the space to host, my husband and I decided to step up to the plate and take on Turkey Day ourselves. We hosted 15 people, and it went off without a hitch — I was even able to run my own personal 5K turkey trot in the morning before guests arrived.

I don’t think there’s any way to avoid the intense rush that occurs just before dinner is served, when dishes are all coming together and the kitchen is bustling, but you shouldn’t have to spend the entire day slaving in the kitchen away from your guests. With careful planning, it can be a relaxing, fun day even for the host. Here are my tips for making Thanksgiving easy:

Make Ahead

There are lots of recipes that can be made — or partially made — days or even weeks in advance without sacrificing taste. This can be a real time saver and make Thanksgiving Day a breeze.

Before the big day last year, a friend was kind enough to loan me Cook’s Illustrated’s  The Best Make-Ahead Recipeswhich turned out to be a goldmine — some recipes could be made months in advance and frozen, others a few days beforehand and kept in the fridge. My guests would have been hard-pressed to tell which dishes were made that morning or earlier in the week.

Also, check out Real Simple’s Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Day Menu. As a Canadian married to an American, I’m allowed to indulge in two Thanksgiving Day dinners — ours being celebrated the same weekend as Columbus Day. My mother-in-law was kind enough to remember while we were visiting her that weekend and suggested we try it. We actually made the entire Real Simple menu, and it turned out really well.

Delegate

Don’t be a hero. Accept help if it’s offered or assign tasks. Maybe Aunt Lydia can bring pies and your sister can bring something to nosh on before dinner is served. I’m blessed to have a very helpful husband who’s a real star when it comes to pitching in, particularly when we have guests. Last year he handled the turkey from start to finish — cleaning it and putting it in the oven and then carving and serving it. It allowed me to focus on sides and other aspects of entertaining.

Get Organized

Sit down with a pen and paper and write down all the tasks you need to do. Then, grab your calendar and assign one or two tasks to the days leading up to Thanksgiving. Perhaps you can pull out and iron linens one night, polish silver another, and set the table the night before. It won’t seem like so much work if you can break down the tasks over several days.

Another thing I like to do is list each item we’re serving on our our kitchen whiteboard. As dishes are completed, I cross it off the list. This way, I don’t forget any dishes, especially where there are so many. If the dish needs to be put in the oven for a set amount of time, I’ll calculate what time it needs to go in in order to be ready by dinnertime and write that time on the board. It makes it much easier to keep track of what dish needs to go in the oven when.

One last tip: Clean out your fridge a few days before Thanksgiving. Space will be at a premium, and it would be a shame for room to be occupied by nearly empty containers or food that’s past its prime.

Simplify

Do you really need to have 10 different side dishes? Maybe you don’t even like some of them, but serve them just because it’s tradition. Take a good hard look at your menu and ask yourself if you can’t take off one or two items. If you love them all, consider making a few in alternate years.

Cheat

Making a dinner from scratch for a large group is hard work, and no one’s going to fault you for taking a shortcut here or there. Maybe buy rolls from a favorite bakery, or use ready-made pie crusts instead of making your own — go ahead, I promise I won’t tell!

What are your tips for making Thanksgiving day easier?

Image: Food Network

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